Harnessing social media to enhance hospice care #learnhospice

Categories: Community Engagement.

The focus of the third in our series of master classes, held in association with The Hospice of St Francis, was on how social media, specifically twitter and blogs by staff, patients, volunteers and the wider community can be harnessed to increase opportunities effectively and safely for ‘connected care’.

Social media works across all settings, connecting care with communications as well as clinical staff. However, the fact that more people in communications roles attended the master class may reflect continuing concerns about confidentiality and professional boundaries among clinical staff. Presentations and discussion suggested ways of dispelling these concerns and encouraged those less familiar with, or hesitant about, tweeting to ‘look, listen, lurk and learn.’

Engagement and connectivity

Sarah Russell (@learnhospice), in her capacity as a hospice nurse, educator and researcher, described how she started being involved in Twitter a year ago because of her community engagement role.

She explained her ‘Five Ps of Twitter’ which guide her approach to social media: ‘purpose, profile, presence, profit, pleasantry’. As the day progressed she expanded these to include, ‘preferences, priorities and potential’ and subsequently captured them on a powtoon animation.

Dr Ros Taylor (@hospicedoctor), Director of the Hospice of St Francis, further contextualised this approach by describing her hospice’s two-fold strategies of engagement and connectivity, which are underpinned by a commitment to offer more choice in how the hospice delivers care and how, within agreed ground rules, patients want to be communicated with. 

As with any change in practice, this has required clinical buy-in, identifying champions and role models, agreeing who can/should tweet in their clinical capacity and ensuring this is informed by organisational-wide key messages and shared understanding of their purpose.

The commitment to move in this direction has been encouraged by the knowledge that many staff, patients and wider stakeholders routinely tweet, for example a family who tweeted the photograph of a relative whose appearance and general well-being was transformed following admission to the hospice. In another example, Dr Taylor shared how a tweet about the delay in ambulance transfer to the hospice started an immediate and productive conversation with the ambulance service leadership.

Top tips – monitoring and measuring    

Teresa Chin (@agencynurse), founder of @WeNurses, built on the theme of connectivity. Teresa described how she had addressed her own professional isolation as an agency nurse and reached out to social media to connect with other nurses.

In doing so, she first brought the concept of Twitter chats to UK nurses – 20,000 of whom now participate in @WeNurses – with the model being replicated for other disciplines. By way of background, Teresa referred participants to an article about creating an online community using hashtags, and factors which have contributed to its success[1]. These include maximising engagement with social media, providing post-Twitter transcripts, summarising the main themes via a word cloud, promoting good practice guidelines, and providing a summary of the chat shortly after it takes place.

Philip Ball, Palliative Care Services Manager at Sue Ryder – Thorpe Hall Hospice, was able to relate this advice to his own experience of hosting a very successful tweet chat via @wenurses on the future role of hospices. Similar thoughts and experiences are echoed by Sarah in her two ehospice blogs on using tweet chats.

Teresa stressed that social media cuts across professional silos and may open doors unexpectedly. For example, during the day Sarah gave live updates to the participants on how the UK Cochrane Centre would be running their palliative care week during Hospice Care Week because of Sarah’s interaction with them.

Echoing the advice of other participants, Teresa outlined the importance of having a social media plan – both for the process and its evaluation, offering protocols and guidance especially for service users who aren’t bound by professional codes of practice, and making it clear if high-profile people are likely to join a discussion.  She highlighted a raft of resources and tools for evaluating Twitter and a cautionary note not only to focus on numbers but on the more qualitative data which can be secured.

Harnessing the patient voice through blogging

Among the participants was Eammon Martin. Initially a ‘reluctant blogger’ but currently this year’s winner of the Britmums Inspire Award for Brilliance in Blogging. Eammon described himself as a husband and father ‘who also happens to be terminally ill’ and who has found blogging personally liberating and of immense value to family and friends.

Eammon’s post on ‘The H Word’ vividly describes his apprehension about hospices and his ‘astonishment’ at what he encountered so positively in Berkhamsted – from the building and its environment through to his experience of pain relief and the wider sphere of hospice care.

It goes without saying that unsolicited endorsement like this are more powerful and more widely read than anything that could have been captured by a more traditional patient experience survey.

Eammon’s willingness to share his experience of the hospice prompted reflections on clinicians’ need to overcome a resistance to ask patients and families to share their stories and, as part of their professional interactions, to actively listen for and hear where these opportunities may exist – and to acknowledge the therapeutic value they can offer to current and prospective patients.

About the master class series from Help the Hospices

The purpose of the master classes is to showcase practice and contemporary perspectives on challenges which many hospices are facing. They enable small groups of peers to work with expert practitioners to share experiences and refine their ideas and help to develop informal networks so that learning continues after each event.

Presentations and reports from previous master classes can be found on Help the Hospices website.

The next master class on ‘Embedding vision and changing culture’ is on 4 September at St Wilfrid’s Hospice, Eastbourne. Help the Hospices is also holding a more general workshop ‘Introduction to social media‘ on 9 October.

To suggest topic for future master classes, contact Jean Hindmarch at Help the Hospices.


Morrley, C. R. and Chinn T. Nursing and Twitter: Creating an online community using hashtags. Collegian 2014;21(2):103-109.

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